Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Notes from the Interior

This is the first post of May. The gap in posts is not just down to being on vacation (on vacation from what? some might say) but can also be explained by various dull Internet issues, flaring back pain, yada yada yada. In the past week or so, I have actually used to time that I would have otherwise have squandered grazing the Net by actually reading books. I picked up The Long Emergency, by James Howard Kunstler and Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-Three of the World’s Best Poems. The former is disappointing, the latter is impressive.The crux of Kunstler’s argument, as I have outlined in an earlier post, is that civilization as we know it is facing meltdown as oil production peaks and subsequently dwindles within the next few years. Unfortunately, one gets the impression Kunstler’s knowledge of the challenges ahead are about as deep as those of the average intelligent person who has read a slew of gloomy articles on “Peak Oil.” This suspicion–that you are dealing with a polemical work produced by an impassioned amateur–is only reinforced by the pop-history summaries of previous oil crises, the development of 20th century capitalism, the 1918 Spanish flu, the “Green Revolution” and half-a-dozen other meaty subjects. The author’s obviously widely read but he fails to offer the illumination that comes with expertise. Incidentally, a recent issue of The Economist featured a special supplement on Oil. An article entitled “The bottomless beer mug” undertakes to explain “Why the world is not running out of oil.”Quote: “Peter Odell of Rotterdam’s Erasmus University points out that ‘since 1971, over 1,500 billion barrels have been added to reserves. Over the same 35-year period, under 800 billion barrels were consumed. One can argue for a world which has been ‘running into oil’ rather than ‘out of it””The apocalypse may have to be postponed.Nevertheless, Kunstler’s almost aesthetic horror at what America’s auto culture has achieved is somewhat comprehensible. One only has to spend a few days in a very prosperous enclave such as Scottsdale, Arizona (where I’ll be until Friday) to become slightly sickened by the levels of fossil fuel consumption on display. (Places like Ireland are doing their best to join the gas-guzzling craze but we’ve still got a ways to go. For example, the Volkswagen Touareg, which can seem bullying on the narrow suburban roads of Dublin looks almost dainty on the roadscape over here.) It seems as though every second car hurtling along Highway 101 is a Panzer-sized Yukon XL or Lincoln Navigator (note the pioneer ethos evoked by the names of vehicles driven by realtors and restaurant managers). Of course, few drivers are ever prodded into making a connection between America’s addiction to imported oil and, say, U.S. foreign policy. Since I’ve been here there seems to have been more coverage in the news of the incredibly trivial “runaway bride” story than of the unceasing turmoil in Iraq. Indeed, it’s very strange that there seems to be more coverage of Iraq in the Irish and British media than in America’s (with some notable exceptions, principally The Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and The Washington Post. But newspaper circulation here, as elsewhere, seems to be in inexorably decline.) In the heated interior of this huge nation, not just Baghdad, but even Europe seems very far away. I’ll try to discuss Paglia’s book in an upcoming post.